Marine Lt.Gen. Lawrence F. Snowden, who fought in the battle of Iwo Jima and led reconciliation reunions to the Pacific island in retirement, died early Saturday – a day before the 72nd anniversary of the famous fight’s opening salvos.
At age 95, the three-star general was the senior survivor of the five-week struggle for the volcanic island, where three airfields were captured in February of 1945 to provide a staging area for air raids on the Japanese mainland. More than 6,000 Americans died and 19,200 casualties were counted – including Snowden, who was wounded twice but persuaded commanders to let him return to the fighting after his first evacuation.
Bevis Funeral Home confirmed that Snowden, who was the Tallahassee Democrat’s Person of the Year in 2016, died at Big Bend Hospice House.
Although he rose to three-star rank and was assistant commandant of the Marine Corps before his retirement in 1979, Snowden was best known for his participation in “Reunion of Honor” missions to meet with Japanese veterans on the island, starting in 1985. He was instrumental in setting up another reunion in 1995 to mark the 50th anniversary of the battle.
Snowden always emphasized that the reunions were not a celebration of the bitterly fought American victory, but a solemn recognition of the sacrifice by combatants on both sides – and a reaffirmation of the friendship between the countries.
“Gen. Snowden was a very highly respected leader and mentor,” said Claude Shipley, a retired Army colonel who heads the Tallahassee chapter of the Military Officers Association of America. “He was highly admired for his work post-World War II in helping to heal the wounds of Japan and the United States, and also for his service to our nation as a Marine Corps officer.”
Born in Charlottesville, Va., on April 14, 1921, Snowden joined the Marines shortly after Pearl Harbor and served in World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam. His many decorations include the Navy Distinguished Service Medal and Legion of Merit.
He was inducted into the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame in 2015. Last year, he published a memoir, “Snowden’s Story,” recounting military adventures and family memories – ranging from how he volunteered to help Gov. Lawton Chiles set up the Department of Elder Affairs in the early 1990s to the 22 years he sang with the choir at Celebration Baptist Church.
He also wrote of the death of his wife, Martha, in 2006 after 63 years of marriage.
The commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. Robert Neller, came to Tallahassee last March to present Snowden two special awards. Neller presented a certificate and pinned two medals on Snowden’s lapel, from the Department of Defense and the Navy for public service.
“Gen. Snowden was part of making that history and handing down a legacy that we all are proud to continue today,” Neller, the Corps’ highest-ranking officer, told about 200 friends and neighbors at the Westminster Oaks ceremony.
Snowden was a 23-year-old captain when he led a company of 230 Marines ashore at Iwo Jima. More than half of them would be killed in the 36-day battle. In an interview last month, Snowden said he felt hostile and embittered toward the Japanese after the war – but his thinking began to change during the Korean War.
He was assigned to a logistics conference in Japan and got to know some of that nation’s military officers, business and government leaders. He decided they were not to blame for the war, but were honorably doing their duty at Iwo Jima.
“It was a slow transition and I’ll admit that,” Snowden said. “Suddenly, it occurred to me that I was free of this burden of hate. I never really hated anybody – I don’t like to use that word — but I’d listened to the propaganda after Pearl Harbor and wanted to get revenge … but I realized that all those young men were doing just what I was doing. They were there fighting because their national leaders sent us there to do what they wanted us to do. They were no different than I was.”
Snowden titled one chapter of his book “The Declining Decade,” matter-of-factly recounting the infirmities of old age, the inevitability of change and his friendships with neighbors at Westminster Oaks.
“From a statistical standpoint, it can be expected that God will probably call me home to that big Marine Corps base in the sky sometime in the 2016-20 time frame,” he wrote, “and I think I will be ready for that.”